Alixel Cabrera: The spooky ghosts of New York City

(Mary Altaffer | AP file photo) Members of the NY Phil Bandwagon, from left, violinist Fiona Simon, countertenor and producer Anthony Roth Costanzo and violinist Curtis Stewart perform in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. The NY Phil Bandwagon travels to three unannounced locations around New York City, Friday through Sunday, for an impromptu pullup chamber music concert as part of the New York Philharmonic's Fall 2020 activities.

After New York turned into a COVID hot spot in March and April, when the virus was so new in the U.S., it left a bitter impression on New Yorkers. Back then, the drastic transformation that the city suffered inspired illustrations of empty landmarks that were only conceivable in post-apocalyptic movies.

It was exhausting to split the mind into trains of thought of sadness of the lives that were suddenly lost; with the fear of uncertainty and the longing for former routines and the spectacular detours from them, that made living in such an expensive city so worth it.

In March 2019, the M train to Brooklyn crossed the Williamsburg bridge above ground while I looked through the windows. The sky faded from a bright orange to a subtle pink and some buildings in the Manhattan skyline started to light up. I had just received the acceptance letter from my graduate school and after two years of effort, heartbreak and tons of paperwork, I finally felt I belonged. I teared up, unlocking a New Yorker badge, according to a list made up by the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

These kinds of New York moments are often what inspire love letters that categorically reject the claim that New York is dead. They also ignited Ghostbusters memes when President Trump said that this is a ghost town in the last presidential debate.

Life is certainly not what it used to be. New Yorkers went from not being able to catch a breath in a packed train to leave empty seats between people. From going to a crowded pho joint that had hours-long waitlists and only accepted cash, to increase the number of meals cooked at home.

The rental inventory in Manhattan jumped by 69.8%, with 72,267 listings available during the third quarter, according to the New York real estate website StreetEasy. Compared to this time last year, there are 30,000 more available housing options in the borough, bringing rents to 2011 prices.

While 22% of businesses didn’t reopen from April to May, according to the Q3 2020 Yelp Economic Average report, New York is still a state that manages to be ranked the 11th most resilient in the country, said the analysis which measures the rate of new restaurant openings. Since March 1, 2,548 new food establishments opened in the state.

But, what denies that the city is a ghost town is the presence of strong communities that still exist and walk these streets.

In the middle of complex and urgent issues that the city has carried for decades, such as racial bias, homelessness, the consequences of gentrification and food insecurity; longtime institutions and communities keep organizing to make this town a better, inclusive place that matches the hurricane of stories, accents and beliefs of generations of immigrants and locals that have found common ground over the years.

Just as Utahns open their parking lots for free to allow small businesses and food trucks to bear with the decrease of sales in COVID times; calls to action to support businesses struggling to make ends meet are every day more frequent in New York.

New York changed, and many people and businesses that can’t operate remotely are still struggling to get back on their feet. The rush, the indoor theaters and gatherings are missing. But, in 2020, the year in which everything turned upside down, I have yet to see an empty street or park in the city.

And, speaking of a vibrant city, early voting lines stretched for blocks in New York showing the eerie appearance of the ghosts who decided to stay in town.

Alixel Cabrera

Alixel Cabrera was a fall intern for The Salt Lake Tribune and is now a freelance journalist in New York City.